Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister, has said his country’s intervention in Mali has reached “a moment of change”.
Speaking in Paris on Thursday, Le Drian said “the French intervention has succeeded”, citing the force’s ability to stop offensives by armed groups in the south of the country within the initial days of the three-week-long intervention.
He cautioned, however, that the task of accompanying “Malian and African forces once they are set up in taking back autonomy and territorial integrity of the Malian state” is still “ongoing”.
Le Drian’s comments come as at least two Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine left by fleeing fighters.
The device exploded as their vehicle passed it near the town of Douentza.
Elsewhere in the country, there have been reports of acts of vengeance perpetrated by the Malian population.
Thierry Burkhard, French military spokesman, said: “Regarding those actions that could be deemed acts of vengeance which have been enacted by the population in certain areas. Like you, we have observed them. We have also observed that the Malian security forces have very quickly intervened to stop these acts of vengeance.”
Burkhard went on to say that by the rules of engagement, if French forces were to witness such actions, “they would
of course intervene immediately to stop them”.
Philippe Lalliot, a spokesperson for the French foreign minister, said on Wednesday it was now time for the “political process” to advance.
France has called for peace talks to be held between Mali’s government and “legitimate representatives” from rebel groups in the north of the country, after French troops took control of the city of Kidal , the last settlement held by those fighters.
He called for talks with the legitimate representatives of the northern peoples and “non-terrorist armed groups” that recognise the integrity of Mali.
“Only a north-south dialogue will prepare the ground for the Malian state to return to the north of the country,” he said.
Mali’s parliament adopted a political road map on Tuesday that included a commitment to holding elections by July 31 and commencing negotiations with representatives from the north.
He told France’s RFI radio he was ready for talks with the secular Tuaregs of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (known by its French acronym, MNLA) who want an independent homeland for their people.
Traore said, however, that he would not meet representatives from any of the three al-Qaeda-linked groups – Ansar al-Dine, MIA and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – that seized northern Mali last year.
Traore said that the groups had pulled out of cities in the north, and that Malian and French forces would have “established a presence everywhere” within a month.